Death makes me aware of the necessity of gaining experience of the nature of mind and of presence1 while in my physical form, in order to retain this awareness through the process of dying, death, and rebirth. I can begin to practise by learning to remain aware during the dissolution of waking consciousness into sleep consciousness. If I know how to retain awareness through the process of falling asleep, dreaming and waking, then I stand a real chance of retaining a degree of awareness through the more profound transition of falling into death, experiencing the dream-like state of the bardos between rebirths, and waking into a new physical being.
To be aware through the process of death and dying means that I maintain awareness of the empty thread of my continuity. The endless stream of present moments is the nature of our beginningless enlightenment. I retain memories – but do not manipulate them to filter present experience. I retain awareness of the love I feel for others – but do not convert it into a reference point to establish existence. Presence is an unending stream of moments of potential love and appreciation. Existing in the present moment, I can truly know myself. Knowing myself in this way—without the limitation of viewing my being as a singular isolated entity—I can know others in a new way. I can experience relationships with other beings at the levels of emptiness, energy, and form. I can recognise the intrinsic, beginningless nature-of-being of others and of myself.
I can appreciate the multifarious manifestations that arise, without losing the knowledge of their intrinsic, beginningless empty nature. We can know and recognise one another in a totally expansive manner that need never be lost.
Impermanence and death are not two separate concepts. All form is impermanent. All form will die. All form—from the chocolate bar you just bought, to the idea in your head, the sensation of wind on your skin, the Statue of Liberty, the Himalayas, and the cells of your body—they will all die. Reality is a continuing flux of emptiness and form, of arising and dissolving, of being born and dying. Death and impermanence encompass ending, cessation, loss, change, evolution, discontinuity, severance, consummation, termination, separation, rupture, completion, arrival, culmination, and achievement. Rebirth encompasses beginning, starting, change, evolution, inception, kindling, birth, debut, conception, inspiration, invention, initiation, embarkation, origination, and precipitation.
Impermanence and death are the joy of being. Impermanence and death are the continuity of existence. How wonderful. How wonderful that every moment is an opportunity for something new to arise. How wonderful that the selfish moment in which I just indulged can die, and that a new moment of generosity can arise. How terrible—not to mention fundamentally impossible—it would be if there were only permanence and eternity. How terrible to be trapped in a particular mind-moment forever. What endless suffering that would be. How wonderful that a moment of appreciation cannot wither and lose its sparkle by becoming fixed and permanent.
1. The word presence in this context is used to denote naked, direct, spontaneous awareness that is without distraction, distortion or dullness. It is awareness that is vibrant and clear in the moment, without concern for past or future.